Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Credit Card Do's and Don'ts

After taking a two week break and having a long four-day holiday, we now come to discuss the credit card. Most people avoid getting one simply because it’s a new thing. People usually fear the unknown. So now I’ve decided to educate you on a financial double-edged sword.

Being cashless is not really a desire of people who don’t have much to go on. However, financial status isn’t the only deterrent to getting a credit card. Fear due to lack of understanding is the most common reason. Now, a credit card can actually help you save a couple of bucks for at least one year if you use it correctly. But, before you get one, there are some things you need to know:
  1. How much money from your budget can you use to completely erase the outstanding balance in one month? This is important as it will allow you to determine the credit limit that you will have. Be careful about this as your bank will extend your credit limit every time you go near this value. Although banks tell you that this is for your convenience, it will allow you to go over your budget and have a gradually enlarging outstanding balance on your credit card. The bank will then get more of your precious money.
  2. What’s your most accessible bank? This will make it easy for you to pay your bills. Get your card from this place.
  3. The shops that you frequent should have a list of cards that they accept. Try to remember what is acceptable. You usually cannot go wrong with a VISA or a Mastercard as their usage is commonplace. If you’re planning to get a different brand, I’ve tried a lot and I’ve also discarded them. These are the two that remain on my list.

Okay! So we now know our credit limit, our favoured bank, and our credit card of choice. Given that you have the proper credentials and requirements to fill out an application, here are the benefits of having a credit card:
  1. Going cashless is nice. Not only does it free up your pockets for other things, having money in small denominations makes it easily expendable. On the other hand, having large denominations is a deadly gamble. Not all shops will accept credit cards, so it helps you develop impulse control (which was the important concept in the previous article) and you still have a hard line to cash should the need to buy something large arise.
  2. Zero interest is a really great thing. It saves you money if you can get something now and pay in instalments. This is the concept of the Time Value of Money. The article I linked to is really comprehensive but the short version is that you want to have a full value item now for less cash now. Sure, eventually you would have paid what it should be worth in three, six, or twelve months but, by then, you would have had the item for the exact same period of time and the credit card company had less.
  3. Swiping your card as payment generates points. Depending on your card, there will usually be benefits attached to it that you can purchase with the points that the card produced. You might think that it will require a large expenditure of money on your part. It actually doesn’t since you can pay off other bills with a credit card and this will earn points as well. Phone, water, electricity, internet, and what-not. All of them provide you service off-the-bat and they may eventually get you a PSP or a trip for two to Boracay for free! Now, being the gamer mentality that I am, I asked around if you can pay off one credit card bill with another and earn points. The answer is a conditional yes. If the card used to pay will be swiped to pay the bill, then perfect. If they’re going to just transfer your balance, that’s a no-no. Some cards add a percentage when accepting balance from some credit cards.
  4. Your credit card bill often comes with a list of places that offers things in exchange for something. If your bill reaches a certain amount, you either get a discount or an additional item. If you buy one thing, then you can get another for free or for an additional amount. Be forewarned. Before you take advantage of an offer, be honest with yourself. Get the freebie only if your actions will produce it. Do not go out of your way and spend extra cash and tell yourself that it was only a small amount to add. Those small amounts add up and the thing you bought was actually cheaper without the “freebie.” Remember, impulse control.

Can you have too many credit cards? Yes, it’s true that you can have too much of a good thing. It’s useless to have a credit limit that you will never reach and one card will usually have more than enough. Remember, you will be paying an annual membership almost every year that this thing is in your possession. Ensure that you check your bill regularly and look for the time when they charge your membership fee. If you want to terminate the card, make sure that you have the bank waive the fee. Ironically, some bank managers can pull strings to waive your membership fee if you’ve been good with your payments or if you used the card sparingly in the past year. Why is this so? They would rather keep you on their string than lose you to another card. It’s good business practice.

Before I close this article, let’s enumerate what you SHOULD NOT DO with a credit card:
  1. Never give a card to a person with poor impulse control. It’s very easy to spot these people a mile away. They’re the ones prone to tantrums and need to have something now. If you really, really, really, really need them to have a card, give them supplementary ones with a small credit limit. But you will regret doing that someday.
  2. Never pay off JUST the minimum balance. Always make sure that your outstanding balance for the month is reduced to zero. This guarantees that the bank will only get money from you when the membership fee becomes due.
  3. Never activate a pre-approved card that you don’t need. In the first place, you don’t need it and there is such a thing as having too many credit cards. Secondly, an activated card will often have hidden charges. Caveat emptor. (That’s Latin for “Buyer beware!”)

I might slip in a different topic next time, just to manage a break between topics. Writing about money too long makes me feel greedy. Remember that your most valuable resource is time. Spend it wisely.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting Capital By Controlling Your Spending

Let’s take a break from health care this time and look into making ends meet. After all, this is a primary concern of most people, moreso if you believe that you are earning less than you should. A common question that always arises when discussing finances with friends is why don’t you have the savings your friends do? Of course it is always easy to rationalize by saying that you have more expenses than they do and they have a bigger salary than yours. But is it really that simple? Let me discuss a few things that may be bloating your budget.

By and large, a lot of people simply live and spend beyond their own livelihood. In a nutshell, you feel rich. Hence, you spend much on luxuries you can do without. Do you really need all those after-market products on your car? Is Shu Uemura the only one that can clean your face? Do you really need a new Iphone? If you think so, then think again. Believe it or not, these are expenses that you can temporarily halt. The money you spend there can actually be enough to start your investment capital. If you aren’t spending richly, are the people you support living thusly? I know someone slaving his life away on some forsaken ship in the middle of nowhere while his wife lives it up here in Manila. Then he comes home to find his family bereft of any savings whatsoever but he thinks that there’s more where that came from.

Another example is the Filipino characteristic where able-bodied parents rely on their children’s underdeveloped incomes to survive. “Buhay mayaman,” where people spend the entire day lounging around, is actually “buhay tamad.” I’ve never seen the rich simply hanging out. If ever, they have to be taught to relax. Most of them wake up early in the morning and sleep late at night. They travel around to make money and rarely have time to themselves. An insurance agent once told me that as much as 53% of parents rely on their children for money later in life. On another instance, an elderly man told me that he sacrificed for his children when they were young so they have to repay him in the present. When I told him that he was confused between sacrifices and loans since sacrifices aren’t repaid, he fell silent. I’m not telling you to abandon your parents. I just want you to be able to give them a better life. Your family included.

Studies of good resource managers show that they are masters of the concept of “deferred gratification,” which is the ability to wait in order to obtain something he or she wants. If you think this is a foreign or novel concept, it’s also known as “impulse control,” “will power,” and “self-control.” The results of Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, done in 1972, expose this phenomenon quite well. Mastering impulse control is an intellectual ability that will eventually help you in the long run. It can actually get you a lot of things for free, mainly because your money will produce money which will increase your purchasing power.

This is the first of some topics on resource management. Luxuries are meant for the luxurious. Earn the money first. Then you will deserve it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How to Do the Four Minute Workout

To start things off, I would like to apologize to my readers for not being able to post last week. I had several hindrances, both personal and professional, to cause writer’s block. In addition, trying to get a search engine to lead back to this blog is starting to bug me.

I’m happy to say that I had the time to post more than once a week last month and I hope that my passion for writing will continue to develop. I would appreciate some feedback on the topics I place on these pages mainly because, although there are several people who visit this site, I have absolutely no idea on what they think or what they would like me to write on. Anyway, this seems to be my last post on health care for the moment so I hope you would endure me for the next few minutes.

So now we go to how to improve output. First off, there is a baseline level of energy expenditure. Sedentary people use only 1500 cal/day while very active ones spend more than 3000 cal/day. The moderate ones, of course, would be in between.

Now let’s go hypothetical. A cup of rice would at least be 100 cal/serving and fried tocino would be 250 to 300 cal/serving. If you only have one serving of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you would get about 1200 cal per day. However, we would be without snacks. Realistically, a Filipino usually has 4 to 5 meals a day. Considering that a can of regular soda would have at least 100 cal and a bag of potato chips go for at least 155 cal, you could easily breach the 1500 cal mark. This is the reason why a lot of people are getting fat.

Although most people would teach that aerobic exercises burn more calories than anaerobic ones, I would beg to disagree mainly because anaerobic exercises accrue an oxygen debt similar to aerobic exercises. However, they pay their dues long after the exercise has terminated. Aerobic exercises allow a person to pay off his oxygen debt during the exercise process. Some people argue that anaerobic exercises build muscle, add weight, and do not burn energy. This statement is a contradiction in itself. Any man of science knows the law of energy and matter conservation. You don’t build muscle from nothing. In addition, the process requires energy. Furthermore, muscles increase the maintenance cost of the body and burn more for nothing in the long run. The only thing they require for maintenance is exercise.

So, without further ado, here’s the Four-Minute Work-out as I understood from the video of Jim Saret and Tina Ryan. But before you start, don’t forget to limber up. Focus on your arms, neck, and waist. These are the things you normally don’t move a lot during the course of your day.

The first step is the plank position. This is a basic exercise taken from Pilates. You stay in this position for 30 seconds.

This is soon followed by squats. Ten repetitions will do.

You then go down on the floor again for ten push-ups. I found an instructional video here just in case the first video of this section wasn’t clear.

Now you stand up and do twenty lunges, one for each leg. Beginners can do what DJ Tina Ryan did in the above video. If you’ve done it long enough, the real lunge looks like this.

The last step is composed of ten crunches.

Now, if I remember correctly, Mr. Saret mentioned something about burning 400 cal per episode. Remember, you don’t need to pay and you don’t need to change clothes for this. You can do it on a long flight and even while it’s raining hard, without fear of catching a cold. Since your feet are firmly fixed on the floor at all times, there’s no impact. Beginners can do this once a day until you get used to it. I would recommend a maximum of three episodes a day, five days a week. Happy weight loss and weight management!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do We Feel What We Eat?

I would like to interrupt my programmed writing schedule for an additional entry on diet and how it affects us. A friend of a friend told me that there was a discussion on how food affects our mood and may help us cope with what we may feel. Before you believe these claims, I’ve written something down to get you to a thinking mood.

Let’s start things off with something easy, the easiest being the “sugar rush.” Although most parents attribute their children’s manic behaviour following a large intake in sweets to the intake itself, it would be nothing short of folly to attribute this as the sole explanation. The best instances to consider are those where sugar, either alone or with substances considered neutral with regards to affecting our mood, are administered in a controlled environment. One of the things that may come to mind is intravenous dextrose. To be honest, I’ve never seen a patient happy while an intravenous line was attached, regardless of how much sugar we pumped into their veins. However, one could rationalize that either the amount was not sufficient or perhaps ingestion was a necessary component. Giving a 50% glucose solution via an intravenous push does not give a rise in excitement either, perhaps due to the fact that administration of a viscous solution into a blood vessel is a painful experience.

The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) involves the ingestion of 75 g of glucose dissolved in a glass of water. There are several people who complain that this test is extremely nauseating; indicating that it often pushes against our limits of ingesting sugar. For those who do not complain, there is no excitement or happiness. The predominant mood being an anxious one, chiefly due to thoughts on whether they have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or not.

So maybe it isn’t glucose. Table sugar is sucrose. It is made mainly of two sugar molecules, mainly glucose and fructose. Fructose is the sugar commonly found in fruits. I don’t see children get the sugar rush, regardless of how many ripe mangoes and mango shakes they consume. To cut a long story short, there may be a period of hyperactivity in people after they consume large amounts of sugar. However, more frequent reliable observations show that this may be due to something else in the situation rather than just sugar. Perhaps the fulfilment of a guilty pleasure is enough?

Another thing that bugs me is the frequent assumption that an increased intake of tryptophan-rich food will result in an increase in the serotonin levels of the brain. Considering that the human body is fully dependent on outside sources for this amino acid, the statement may seem plausible. This also means that it is available in very low concentrations within our body. There are two ways that this molecule may be fashioned three-dimensionally and they are called the D- and L- forms. Our body uses the L- form and it is called L-tryptophan.

The biggest investment of our absorbed tryptophan is, of course, protein synthesis. This only concerns structural proteins and proteins that speed up chemical reactions (called enzymes). Now before the tryptophan goes to serotonin, it also goes to a pathway responsible for vitamin B level maintenance. According to present day estimates, only about 3% of dietary tryptophan is used in the manufacture of serotonin. The funny thing is that, in mammals, 80-95% of our serotonin is found in our stomach. So isn’t it more plausible to believe that it would more likely be able to affect gastrointestinal function than brain activity?

The absorption and metabolism of tryptophan is an extremely complicated and boring discussion. Suffice it to say, given their levels all throughout the body; it should affect a lot more than just our mood. But it doesn’t.

One common flaw in reasoning is the assumption that, when two things happen together frequently, it's a cause-and-effect relationship. It just means that there is an association. Proving one causes the other is another thing altogether. Common sense screens the obvious associations that do not cause the other, like people having the same birthday or the rooster crowing in the morning.

Remember that people don't eat pasta because they're lonely. It’s just as believable as kids eating spaghetti because they’re lonely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jim and the Four-Minute Workout

Last week, we discussed decreasing caloric input. However, this is only half of the problem. Increasing caloric output is the other half. Exercise is, of course, the obvious answer. It is also a rhetorical answer as most people would rather not exercise. They just like to talk about it.

Warning: Although exercise is a healthy activity, there are several things that it does not do. It does not cure hypertension. It does not cure diabetes mellitus. The only medical condition that it can possibly cure is obesity. It is not safe for people with uncontrolled blood pressure to undergo exercise and other strenuous activities.

Being a sedentary person, I decided to ask myself why I avoid and abhor exercise. The first reason that came to my mind was that I don’t like to put on exercise clothes. The next was that I didn’t like to be seen by other people. Other reasons included financial expenditure (I find it ridiculous to spend for something I might use only once or twice), portable (I can do it anywhere), and, lastly, adjustable difficulty levels. This is where another radio show on 99.5 RT comes in. The TNT show, previously hosted by Neil Almighty and Tina Ryan, had fitness experts over on Wednesdays on a segment they called FIT Radio. I listened eagerly every time, hoping that they would give me a piece of the puzzle I was currently trying to solve. One day, they had a guest that they called “Coach Jim from the gym.” He had something he called the Four-Minute Workout. What enthralled me were the words that followed. He said that it would burn 400 calories every time and that he wasn’t going to copyright it since he wanted a fit Philippines. It was perfect. After some thought, I realized that it wasn’t. I needed this man’s name. If he wasn’t going to get the cash his idea should produce, at least he should get the credit. A phone call later, I knew that this fitness genius was Jim Saret. He happens to be a Sports Training and Fitness Consultant for the Philippine Smart Gilas, the Philippine Swimming Team, and the Philippine Olympic Committee, among others.

Now that I had my wanted workout, I then found a new obstacle in getting people to exercise. Motivation. Most adults say that their exercise is housework. Guess what? Exercise is a planned activity with the objective of strengthening or increasing the fitness of the performer. Work is an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something. From their definitions, you could easily see that work uses your pre-existing abilities to do something whereas exercise makes you stronger. The problem arises when one is expected to perform work that is beyond their present capabilities. This results in injury.

Before I go, I would like to thank Neil Almighty and Scarlet of The Awesome Show for advertising my blog. I’ll try and get in touch with Jim Saret for any corrections or confirmations he may have regarding this entry.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Calorie Restriction and the Half-Diet

So, after a few days, we’ve finally reached the last bullet point to discuss:

3. The only proven method of extending your lifespan is by calorie restriction.

Okay, I’ll admit, when you look at the data on the webpage above, you’ll see an animal study showing that mice and rhesus monkeys live longer. There are claims on other species and I managed to look at them before they restructured this webpage. Unfortunately, I can’t claim evidence that I can’t show you. There are other articles based on human studies but they are simply ‘presumptive.’ That means these studies point to a few things and presume that the people who have these things will live longer. It’s difficult to make studies regarding human lifespans mainly because humans live longer than our interest levels would hold.

Now, one big difference with people and animals is that we can rationalize eating less or more. Another difference is that we have a lot of freely available food compared to animals that have to struggle and scrounge for their nutrition. What does this mean? Animals consume a fairly static level of calories per day because their level of activity is fairly static. Humans, however, have occasions where they consume more or move less. Holidays, in general, allow people to eat more. They also move less, resulting in less traffic during said days. The result is a greater input and lesser output. This means that although total caloric intake is important, our ability to regulate our caloric output also means that we can focus our attention on caloric excess, or the difference between our input and our output. If your output is equal to or greater than your input, you’ll lose weight. It’s actually that simple.

After a large part of my life was spent labelling things black and white, maturity has shown me that things, even when simplified, are not really that simple. I do not advocate calorie restriction wholeheartedly. Another tenet in my life is to “Enjoy everything in moderation.” That rule also applies to calorie restriction. I only advise it when you’re trying to reach your ideal body weight. I use Broca’s formula (the first one on the previous link) simply because it’s easier to remember. However, if you are a stickler for accuracy, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the way to go. Since most of my readers are Asians, I would recommend either the Japanese or Singapore version for you.

Sometime ago, Glyco wrote a request for me to discuss liquid fasting diets. Although liquid fasting diets are great to jump start a weight loss program, they’re not really that great to use for the rest of your life. Weight loss is just the start. Weight maintenance is the real battle. And that’s where liquid fasting diets fail. What people need is a diet that they can and will adhere to for the rest of their lives. My answer to that is the “half diet.” You eat whatever you used to eat before you started dieting but half the amount. That means half the viands and half the rice. It also means no in-between-meal snacks. The nice thing about this diet is that you’re going to be eating the same things you’ve been eating. Why? The smaller the change, the easier it is to incorporate into your daily life.

Now that we’ve got the preliminary discussion down pat, we’ll continue with increasing output next week.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eating Cake and Losing Weight

After a few days of counting my usage of a certain phrase, I’ve decided to take Luis’ suggestion and rename my blog. I’ve also decided to schedule updates on Fridays so as to give me more time to write. I basically write when the muses visit me and not whenever I want to, which is inconvenient but I don’t like making works of poor quality.

As promised, my next discussion will be on weight loss and maintenance. This is very important to me because I have a sedentary job and I found myself gaining weight after I became self-employed. Although I knew that obesity was a risk factor for deadly incommunicable diseases, there was always this voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t going to be one of those people on television. Then, one a rainy day, I was watching the Discovery channel and it was an episode entitled, “Super Obese.” I don’t have a copy of this episode and I’m hoping that it becomes available locally soon.

The important word for this article is “calorie” which means “an amount of food having an energy-producing value equal to the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water 1 degree Celsius.”

To cut a long story short, the program has 3 bullet points:
1. People usually gain weight because their daily activities decrease but their eating habits remain the same.

Basically, we all know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Well, the human body is an energy system. Our only sources of energy input are eating and drinking. Breathing only contributes the material by which we can harvest the energy. Although we use an amount for regular maintenance, our energy output can be voluntarily increased by physical activity. So when we go back to statement #1, it simply means the person’s input eventually exceeds the output.

You often hear the statement, “I have a low metabolic rate,” or something roughly similar to that. Guess what? Your metabolic rate is actually under your control. You can increase it by exercising or working, exercise being the safer. Take note that exercise is not work and vice versa.

2. Our bodies run better when we have fewer calories available.

The human body is an expert in conserving energy. That’s basically the reason why it is easier to gain rather than lose weight. Unfortunately, becoming overweight is like living in a cluttered house. You eventually have very little space to move and do things quickly and effectively.

A lot of individuals have forgotten that the human body produces sugar (glucose) and fat (triglycerides) at will in response to excessive intake of calories. If you remember your high school biology, you would know that the digestive system breaks down all the food you eat into its component compounds. Carbohydrates become sugars, fats become fatty acids and glycerol, while proteins become amino acids. In short, getting fat and eating fat are two different things. As most people have experienced, you can get fat without eating fat. However, what most people don’t know is that you can lose weight even while eating fat.

I’ll continue with the third bullet point when I return.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Natural Safety

First off, thanks to a local radio show called “Disturbing the Peace” for advertising my blog and for the warm welcome that the SaGOs have given it. Being an avid and active listener definitely has it perks. One listener by the name of Luis had a suggestion that I change the title of this blog to “The Thing Is.” I’ll definitely consider it since I use that phrase with some consistency. For those who want topics discussed, I’ll try to work them in as fast as I can. You can send me topic requests by commenting on my blog. For those who send me requests through Facebook, that account was only made per request of Sam and Gibb, so it will only be accessed on necessity. But once I get them, I’ll work them in.

For comments, I’m very open to them. Please comment if you wish further discussion or clarification. Just keep in mind that a blog entry has to be long enough to convey everything you have to say and short enough to keep from exceeding the reader’s attention span.

Now, on to the next article.

I left off last time saying that even natural things have harmful effects. Saying that natural supplements have no side effects because they’re natural is as credible as fire not having the ability to burn or water not having the ability to drown. Take note that fire and water are both natural. Consider also the fact that all diseases have a natural basis. The corollary is also amusing. The only natural medication for Diabetes Mellitus is the one that the diabetics commonly fear the most – insulin. If you still don’t believe me, the Wikipedia actually has a handy list that you can access here. I mean, don’t take my word for it – read! Be cautious, however, since the list is far from complete.

When you click on it, I would like to focus your attention on a substance known as aristolochic acid. This beauty was brought to my attention a couple of years ago when I was part of a transplant ethics committee. Some recipients had their kidneys inadvertently destroyed by the lavish unnecessary intake of Chinese herbal medications. Because of this discovery, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert. This alert was issued more than a decade ago and people still peddle to the belief that “natural” means “safe” to this very day.

One of the more popular herbal supplement components are antioxidants. One thing that people don’t know is recent research indicates that an increased intake of beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality significantly. In plain English, it can kill you. Again, don’t take my word for it. If you don’t have the time to read the entirety, focus on the abstract’s conclusion here. Take note that the article is more than four years old and it still remains largely unknown to the majority of the population.

Welcome to the 21st century, people. I’ll get back to you when I do. I'll probably write about weight loss and maintenance next.

Monday, July 4, 2011

All Things Herbal

So I finally decided to start my own weblog, or blog as most would put it. I was initially wondering on what to put in it but I eventually came to the conclusion that if whatever I wrote was interesting, others would give it their time and attention. In short, whatever came to my mind: my beliefs, opinions, and interpretations of events, whether actual or theoretical.

In this day and age, my biggest concern would be the preponderance of health supplements. Now most people would debate that this depends mainly on one's healing paradigm. True, of course. So, before I continue, here is my disclaimer: everything that follows pertains only with regards to Western medicine.

Most supplements are connected with Western medicine mainly because this is the one most intimately connected with financial gain. It's also the one with the largest market. So basically, if you wanted to sell something related to health, the most rewarding paradigm would be this one.

The primary tagline of supplements is “natural, not artificial.” This might seem common sense to you but this is nothing but wordplay. As defined by the Merriam-Webster, “natural” in this sense means either “growing without human care” or “existing in or produced by nature” whereas, “artificial” is defined as “humanly contrived often on a natural model.”

Yes, my dear readers, for some reason, the human animal has considered its work of lesser quality than that of other animals. For that reason, I often jest with the more fanatical of my students. I often ask them that, if they believe natural things to be superior, why wear clothes or ride mechanical means of transportation? It seems quite self-defeating to me and that is the main reason why I do not ascribe to this school of thought. I have realized that the natural-artificial dichotomy is, likewise, artificial.

Is there any evidence that imperfection resides in both the natural and the artificial? Sadly, the answer is yes. There is nothing perfect in this imperfect world. For every substance that has an effect, there is a side effect. If there are no side effects, logic dictates that there is most likely no effect at all.

Don’t worry, I’ll continue this where I left off next time.